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Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  1,244 ratings  ·  135 reviews
Today’s writers need more spunk than Strunk: whether it's the Great American e-mail, Madison Avenue advertising, or Grammy Award-winning rap lyrics, memorable writing must jump off the page. Copy veteran Constance Hale is on a mission to make creative communication, both the lyrical and the unlawful, an option for everyone.

With its crisp, witty tone, Sin and Syntax covers
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 20th 2001 by Three Rivers Press (first published 1999)
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Community Reviews

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Much better than The Transitive Vampire, I think. I'd give it more stars, but to do so with a grammar book would be to offer my inner dork far more exposure than I'm comfortable with.

I'm sorry; I mean, "far more than that with which I am comfortable."
Emma Sea
Quit at page 69.

The self conscious "hippest grammar guide ever" tone pissed me right off.

The examples of poor writing were taken from politicians and academics. Talk about going for the low-hanging fruit.

The examples of good writing I didn't like all that much. The habit of embolding words all through the examples irritated me.

Might have got better: can't be bothered waiting to see.
Initial reaction: This was definitely well worth the purchase. Considering this takes apart prose piece by piece for function, it's definitely well worth using to see trouble spots in one's edits, as well as how to enhance the prose while breaking a few rules.

Full review:

I'm really glad I picked up Constance Hale's "Sin and Syntax" because I think its a wonderful examination into how the parts of a sentence contribute to the strengths in one's writing, and not only shows the rules for what you c
Jennifer Sommersby
~Reprint from March 2006~

Jenn Sommersby Young ~ 2006-2011

SIN AND SYNTAX: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose
by Constance Hale
Pub. Broadway
ISBN 0767903099 / 978-0767903097
2011 update: available for Kindle

There are three absolutes for the reading writer upon his/her decision to ingest Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax:

(1) Buy your own copy. Do not borrow the library’s edition, my friend, because you will not be able to resist the urge to dog-ear, highlight, scribble, or un
I consider myself to be a reasonably knowledgeable grammarian; however, my philosophy on the subject is you can never brush up too much. So, with the disclaimer that I happen to find this subject matter interesting most of the time, I will move on to specifics of this book. I'd like to think even those less interested in grammar would find this work at least somewhat enjoyable. If you're looking for technical answers, you'll find them. Hale breaks the topic down into words (the parts of speech), ...more
This isn't your traditional how-to book for writers. Rather, it's a meditation on the role of grammar and diction in all prose--and it's a really good one. These sorts of books are only as good as the example passages selected, and here we get some very obscure, very spot on stuff (as opposed to a lot of how-tos, which copy the last page of Sun Also Rises and basically say, "This is how to write--now go do it!") Sin & Syntax really changes the way you think about stringing words together, wh ...more
Dangling modifiers. Loose pronouns. Mixed metaphors. Sentence fragments . . . aw crap.

Whatever your sin, Sin and Syntax is an all-purpose grammar guide that helps not only to improve your grammar but also to polish your prose.

Constance Hale divides her book into three sections: words, sentences, and music. In words, she defines the fundamental building blocks of grammar (nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc.). In sentences, she teaches sentence mechanics and variation. In music, she explains how to a
Marissa van Uden
"Capturing the zing of conversation requires attentive listening and painstaking revision. It comes from connection,
from the narrator subtly reaching out to the reader and saying, 'We’re in this together.'”

Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose, by Constance Hale, is one of those rare grammar guides you can take pleasure in reading front to back because it’s so engaging, witty, and illuminating.

I own plenty of grammar manuals, but this is a far more inspiring creature that goes beyond ju
For a grammar book, this was actually entertaining! I know, hard to believe but true. A good portion of the book discusses various parts of speech and their correct grammatical use; however, there is also a lot of information on how to improve the clarity and quality of your prose. Trim down those sentences bloated with adverbs and adjectives and trade out those flabby verbs for stronger ones - your writing will be the better for it!
Roni Loren
Even if you feel you have a good handle on grammar, this book is worth a read. If for nothing else, read it for the chapters on Voice, Lyricism, Rhythm, and Melody and for the fantastic examples of beautiful writing given throughout the book. This book will inspire you to work harder on your writing, to choose words with more thought, and to pay attention to the music of your prose. I plan to keep this one on my shelf.
While this book has plenty to offer, I had two complaints. #1 - I was turned off (pun intended) by the repeated legalese examples. I think it is obvious to everyone that writing fiction and writing briefs are two different things! Constance Hale continually tells the writer (reader) that one should be aware of their audience. I think Miss Hale should take her own advice and focus on the topic at hand. #2 - Perhaps the editor thought that the sex theme would make this book stand out among the num ...more
Who'dathunkit? A writing book that's a romp to read! Her examples are excellent and the format is user friendly. Hale admonishes writers with pithy and preeminently useful advice-- and offers tools for really sharpening your writing. I'm inspired to work harder and think better. And it was fun to bashfully learn some new grammar gems, like when to avoid the word "like" (like a noun, as a verb?)

A grammar book for people who hate grammar books. Written with a definite edge and very personable, with examples and text that is neither dry nor burdened by a sense of its own importance.
Aug 31, 2008 Madeleine rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Writers who are serious about improving their skills
Recommended to Madeleine by: College professor
A book on being a better writer written by a woman who clearly has way too much fun with her craft. Excellent for anyone looking to fine tune his or her writerly wit and ways.
Joseph Lerner
Clear, beautifully written, and entertaining to boot. I now use it as my primary reference for syntax, grammar, and style. Highly recommended.
Apr 26, 2014 josh rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: The nerdiest of word nerds
Recommended to josh by: All Sides w/ Ann Fisher
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
After hearing Hale on All Sides, I was looking forward to reading the recently updated Sin and Syntax - and even bought it, instead of my normal "borrow from the library" model for non-fiction books - but afterwards.... I thought it fell flat, and, for a book about "craft[ing] wicked good prose", I found myself struggling to get into the writing, my thoughts drifting and was often unable to focus because so few chapters actually grabbed me & urged me to read on.

I'm sure there were some tips
Newton Nitro
Sin and Sintax foca em uma das áreas mais importantes da escrita, a construção de frases e a escolha das palavras certas para um texto. Constance Hale, uma experiente escritora e editora da revista Wired, criou um guia de escrita e estilo divertido de se ler e muito útil. Cada sessão do livro, que é bem estruturado por sinal, aborda cada elemento da sintaxe, mostrando o essencial, que ela chama de “ossos”, como utilizar na sua escrita de maneira ideal, o que ela chama de “carne” e o que não se d ...more
I enjoyed the way this book was written, delving into individual parts of speech and exploring the rules of grammar and usage, and then how to effectively break the rules in writing prose to go beyond the typical creative landscape. The latter part of the book was less interesting for me, as it started to delve into more complex topics, but it was still useful information. I dog-eared a significant portion of this book, and will be glad to have it shelved for future reference.

Some of my favorite
Connie Hale has tightened up my writing since I first heard her recite the delightful "Little Lei Puahi" Hawaiian pidgin version of Little Red Riding Hood at the SF Writer's Grotto.

This is my one-stop reference for all the technical aspects of writing, but it's not a one-off read. Connie packs it with too much linguistic knowledge for me to keep up there, and to be honest I didn't think some of the chapters on sentence structure, etc. were necessary. Each chapter breaks down into sections like F
I always remember a piece of advice in Stephen King's ON WRITING, which I read a good few years ago: King recommends that writers get themselves a "writer's toolbox" of skillsets, reference books etc. that they can fall back on and use to enhance their trade.

Ever since, I've been keeping an eye out for really good guides to the nitty-gritties of writing: namely, spelling, punctuation and grammar. SIN AND SYNTAX may well be one of the best of those guides.

The first and foremost thing about this b
A book about where to use a comma, in Ms. Hale's estimation. Bad jokes, hilariously self-conscious and overwrought anti-clever writing, etc. 'Wickedly' effective prose is the promise. Well, I read the book then just wrote a sentence: did it hurt your feelings?

Of note, her architectural conceit is that a sentence is alive, get it? Each grammatical or syntactical tidbit she explores is divided into 'bones', 'flesh', 'cardinal sins', and 'cardinal pleasures'. It's like a poem, man, or that song by
Lynne Favreau
Mar 15, 2012 Lynne Favreau added it
Shelves: writing
This small book packs in a lot of information in a spirited and intelligent way. Starting “New Principles of Prose” - which are: Relish Every Word. Be Simple, But Go Deep. Take Risks. Seek Beauty. Find The Right Word. She then divides it into three parts: Words, Sentences and Music. Each chapter has four subheadings, Bones, Flesh, Cardinal Sins, and Carnal Pleasures.

This book is a good introduction or refresher for using correct grammar, a word which I think frightens some people, including me,
So far, this book is brilliant. I majored in Professional Writing, Editing, and Publishing, and although I am a good writer, I've often tackled the nuts and bolts of grammar intuitively. The chapters are broken up into chapters on words (noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, preposition, adverb) and then parts of a sentence (subject, predicate, simple sentences, phrases and clauses, sentence variety) and finally what Hale refers to as music: the true harmony of good syntax. This chapter covers the top ...more
David Clark
OK, I confess: I am not a grammar nazi. I am not even a grammar lover. In fact, my former English teachers who by now are tending celestial gardens must attend confession after learning that I actually discuss grammar with students. What I am is a lover of off-beat and non-standard ways to teach modern students about language, a subject not high on their interest list. This well written text containing clear explanations and spot-on examples is also something most grammar texts are not, it is cl ...more
Bill Davis
I enjoyed the book. It was a fun read, but it does not accomplish its stated goal. The subtitle claims that the reader will learn "how to craft wickedly effective prose." But I don't think it would really do that for most writers. It was more a collection of interesting examples and anecdotal stories about language.

I found the organization of the book to be unhelpful. There are sections with chapters, but I hardly notice the boundaries as I read through the book, so I tended to feel lost at time
Let's be honest: A grammar book can only be so good. SIN AND SYNTAX certainly comes highly rated, as it seems most Goodreaders found it an enjoyable read. And there is much to enjoy in the book. Certainly the writing style has a casual, playful tone in sections, while remaining authoritative and concise when dealing with the nuts and bolts of grammar. It's very thorough in its treatment of the parts of speech and their grammatical functions (something that's always worth reviewing, to be honest) ...more
Jaime Skelton
Jul 19, 2013 Jaime Skelton rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: writers and editors.
Shelves: grammar, writing, syntax
The short of it: Sin and Syntax is simply seductive in its approach to syntax.

Sin and Syntax is divided into logical sections, each of which treats the bones, flesh, sins, and pleasures of its syntactical topic. Likewise, these sections build from the most basic of syntax concerns (such as word choice among verbs and adverbs) to the most robust (such as rhythm among poetry and prose). By the end of the book, I was certainly left on the metaphorical pyramid, looking down at the splendor of langua
Margit Sage
Aug 14, 2013 Margit Sage rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who writes (any kind of writing)
This book is full of incredibly useful information on how to improve your prose. It includes sections on Words, Sentences, and Music. Each section includes the Bones (grammar lesson, with examples), Flesh (writing lesson, with examples), Cardinal Sins (errors with examples), and Carnal Pleasures (good examples). I dog-earred the book like crazy, underlining occasionally.

A new edition just came out, which I bought for my kindle so I can easily highlight and bookmark useful passages. The new editi
Ryan Dejonghe
When the Packers needed help reversing their seasonal losing record, they brought in the now Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi. As the story goes, Vince began his tenure by holding up a football and saying, “Let’s start at the beginning. This is a football.” In Sin and Syntax, Constance Hale is standing in the proverbial locker room, saying, “This is a noun.”

I’ve read or flipped through about ten grammar books this year and this is the first book that starts with the basics. I have a high school
As I purchased Sin and Syntax, the young girl at the cash register scanned Constance Hale's proposition and challenged me, "Are you a wicked writer?" I skipped a beat and smiled, "No I'm not. It'll be on my headstone though; Yes, he was a wicked writer." Isn't it obvious? Clearly, I aspire to great things to invest this $21.00 plus tax.

Sin and Syntax is an enjoyable read and this is a miracle in itself, given the topic. Hale was successful at undoing my loathing for writing by conveying her gen
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